And the LORD said to him [Elijah], “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. (1Ki 19:15)
Hazael was a ruler Aram-Damascus (Syria), a kingdom located to the northeast of Judah and Israel from ca. 842—800 BC1. He appears in the Bible several times:
- The Lord commanded the prophet Elisha to anoint Hazael king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15)
- Hazael murdered Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria to take the throne (2 Kings 8:7-15)
- Joram, king of Israel and Ahaziah, king of Judah fought against Hazael, king of Syria. Joram was wounded in the battle and returned to Jezreel to heal. (2 Kings 8:25-29)
- Hazael invaded the lands of Israel, Judah and Philistia. He captured Gath (2 Kings 12:17), took numerous cities from Israel (2 Kings 13:3, 25), and attacked Jerusalem, receiving tribute from King Jehoash to spare the city (2 Kings 12:18).
Numerous archaeological discoveries attest to these events and illuminate the life of Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus.
Hazael came to power by murdering his predecessor and seizing the kingdom. In 2 Kings 8:7-15, Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, sent Hazael to the prophet Elisha to inquire as to whether he would recover from an illness. Elisha told Hazael to lie to his master, telling him he would recover when he would not. The prophet further informed Hazael that God had revealed that he would do much damage to Israel. When Hazael asked how one who was “but a dog” would do such a great thing, Elisha replied that he would soon become king. Hazael returned to Ben-Hadad, gave him the false message, and then murdered his master. According to the biblical account, “The next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place” (2 Kings 8:15).
Interestingly, Hazael’s coup is alluded to in Assyrian inscriptions, where Hazael is called the “son of a nobody.” A broken statue of Shalmaneser III was discovered at Ashur, on which an inscription records seven campaigns in geographical order undertaken by the Assyrian king. On the left hip of the statue, one can read, “Hadad-ezer disappeared forever; Hazael, son of a nobody, seized the throne.”2 The phrase “son of a nobody” is used numerous times in Assyrian texts to refer to a usurper.3
Hazael’s historicity has never truly been in doubt; there are far too many inscriptions from the ancient world testifying to his existence.
An ivory plaque bearing an Aramaic inscription dedicated to Hazael was discovered in 1928 in a building next to an Assyrian palace at Arslan-Tash. It reads, “[… which] the troops [o]ffered to our Lord, Hazael, in the year of the [cap]ture of Ha[math?].”4 The ivory may have been carried to Arslan-Tash as part of the booty taken when Damascus was captured in 773 BC.5
An ornate bronze plaque that would have covered a horse’s nose was discovered in the Hera temple at Samos in 1984. On it are four goddesses in a style common to northern Syria surrounded with the inscription, “(This is) what HDR [Hadad] gave our Lord Hazael of the Valley of Bashan.”6
Hazael is also attested on the Zakkur Stele, a victory monument erected by Zakkur, king of Lu’ash and Hamath to praise his god Baal-shamayin (lit. “Lord of the Heavens”) for making him king of the city of Hazrach (biblical Hadrach [Zech. 9:1]) and for delivering this city from the siege of a coalition of of city-states led by “Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, king of Damascus”.7
Hazael’s Battles against Assyria
Hazael was attacked by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, on multiple occasions. While the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is most famous for recording the tribute of Jehu, king of Israel, it also records two campaigns against Hazel of Damascus:
“In the eighteenth year of my reign [841 BC], I crossed the Euphrates for the sixteenth time. Hazael of Damascus attacked for battle. I took 1121 of his chariots, 470 of his riding horses, together with his camp…In the twenty-first year of my reign [838 BC] I crossed the Euphrates for the twenty-first time. I marched to the cities of Hazael of Damascus; I captured four of his centers.”8
In another inscription Shalmaneser boasts, “Hazael of Damascus put his trust in his vast army and called up his troops in great number. He made Mount Senir, a mountain peak facing the Lebanon, his fortress. I felled with the sword 16,020 of his fighting men…He fled to save his life. I followed (and) locked him up in Damascus his royal city. I cut down his orchards, and burned his stocks of grain.”9
It is interesting to note that Shalmaneser does not claim to have defeated the city of Damascus; he only shut Hazael up in his city and destroyed the crops around the city. It’s a tacit admission that, while Hazael may have suffered defeat, Shalmaneser was never able to subjugate him.
Hazael’s Battles Against Judah and Israel
According to the biblical record Hazael was a frequent foe of Israel and Judah. 2 Kings 8:25-29 records the results of a battle between the Syrian king and a coalition of the Israelite and Judahite armies. It appears that Hazael was victorious, and Joram was severely wounded in the battle, retreating to Jezreel.
Jehu then assassinated Joram and Ahaziah, seizing the throne in Samaria. Again, the Bible records, “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin. In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan.” (2 Kings 10:31-33).
Hazael also marched against Jerusalem, but relented when Jehoash, king of Israel, paid tribute to him by sending gifts and all of the gold that was to be found in the palace and the temple (2 Kings 12:17-18).
During the reign of Jehu’s wicked son Jehoahaz, we read that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael” (2 Kings 13:3).
The most famous artifact attesting to Hazael’s wars with Israel and Judah is the Tel Dan Stele. It is a victory monument that was discovered at Hazor in which a king of Aram claims to have killed a king of Israel and a king of the “house of David.” While the Aramean king in question is not named, it is almost universally acknowledged to be Hazael. Not only is it dated paleographically to his reign9, it seems to be the best fit historically since the names of the kings he claims to have killed have been reconstructed with near certainty to “Joram, son of Ahab, king of Israel” and “Ahaziah, son of Jehoram.”10 Of course, the Bible explicitly states that it was Jehu who killed Joram and Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:14-27). How do we reconcile the Tel Dan Stele and the biblical text? It’s not surprising that Hazael would take credit for the death of his enemies; Kenneth Kitchen notes that this was a common occurrence in ancient Near Eastern royal inscriptions.11 Others have pointed out that the word translated “to kill” on the Tel Dan Stele can also be translated as “to strike or defeat.”12 Since it was Hazael who originally defeated Joram and Ahaziah in battle, the former never recovering from the wounds he received at the hands of the Syrians, he could boast of defeating the two kings on the Tel Dan Stele.
Hazael’s Battle against the Philistines
Finally, the Bible describes Hazael’s defeat of the Philistines: “At that time Hazael king of Syria went up and fought against Gath and took it” (2 Kings 12:17). Dr. Aren Maeir, the long-time director of the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath notes that much evidence has been found of Hazael’s destruction at the site: “We have evidence of the siege system that he built around the site (earliest known archaeological evidence of siege system in the world), and throughout the site, extensive evidence of the total destruction of the site. This massive destruction brought about the end of Philistine Gath.”13 In 2021, the team at Tell es-Safi/Gath announced that they believed they had found the exact spot where Hazael’s army breached the walls of the city of Gath.14
Hazael was one of the strongest kings of Aram-Damascus. “The extent of Hazael’s power can be seen in that Shalmanezer tried twice (in 841 and 838) to take Damascus, but failed. It also can be seen by the fact that inscriptions discovered in Greece at Etruria and Samas refer to Hazael as ‘our Lord’…Moreover Hazael’s name was still attached to Damascus in Assyrian records more than a century after his death.”15 As we have seen time and again, archaeology affirms the accuracy of historical events recorded in the Bible. At the same time specific discoveries illuminates the geopolitics of the world in which Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus, lived.
Cover Photo: An ivory image thought to be that of Hazael, king of Aram or a god. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
1 Wayne T. Pitard, “Hazael.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. D.N. Freedman. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3416.
2 Mordecai Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel. (Jerusalem: Carta, 2015), 31.
3 K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “‘Haza’el, Son of a Nobody’: Some Reflections in Light of Recent Study” in Writing and Ancient Near Eastern Society. Papers in Honour of Alan R. Millard, eds. P. Bienkowski et al., (New York and London: T & T Clark International/Continuum, 2005), 248. Online: https://www.academia.edu/9122283/_Haza_el_Son_of_a_Nobody_Some_Reflections_in_Light_of_Recent_Study_Pp_245_270_in_Writing_and_Ancient_Near_Eastern_Society_Papers_in_Honour_of_Alan_R_Millard_eds_P_Bienkowski_et_al_New_York_and_London_T_and_T_Clark_International_Continuum_2005 (Accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
4 Shuichi Hasegawa, Aram and Israel during the Jehuite Dynasty, (Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), p. 59. Online: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110283488.52 (Accessed Oct. 6, 2022)
5. K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “‘Haza’el, Son of a Nobody’: Some Reflections in Light of Recent Study” in Writing and Ancient Near Eastern Society. Papers in Honour of Alan R. Millard, eds. P. Bienkowski et al., (New York and London: T & T Clark International/Continuum, 2005), 260.
6 Shuichi Hasegawa, Aram and Israel during the Jehuite Dynasty, (Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), p. 60.
7 Sarah C. Melville, Brent A. Strawn, Brian B. Schmidt, and Scott Noegel, “Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts I.” In The ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, ed. Mark W. Chavalas. (London: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 307.
8 Mordecai Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel. (Jerusalem: Carta, 2015), 24.
9 Sarah C. Melville, Brent A. Strawn, Brian B. Schmidt, and Scott Noegel, “Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts I.” In The ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, ed. Mark W. Chavalas. (London: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 246.
10 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 37.
11 Ibid, 37.
12 Todd Bolen, “The Aramean Oppression of Israel in the Reign of Jehu,” PhD diss., (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2013), 56. https://www.academia.edu/6097624/The_Aramean_Oppression_of_Israel_in_the_Reign_of_Jehu (Accessed Oct. 9, 2020).
13 Bryan Windle, “Discussions with the Diggers: An Interview with Dr. Aren Maeir.” Bible Archaeology Report. Jan. 7, 2022. https://biblearchaeologyreport.com/2022/01/07/discussions-with-the-diggers-an-interview-with-dr-aren-maeir/ (Accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
14 David Ariel, “In a Seinfeld Moment, Israeli Archaeologists Hail Momentous Find of Nothing.” Haaretz. Aug. 8, 2021. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2021-08-08/ty-article/in-a-seinfeld-moment-israeli-archaeologists-hail-momentous-find-of-nothing/0000017f-e150-d9aa-afff-f95899410000 (Accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
15 Sarah C. Melville, Brent A. Strawn, Brian B. Schmidt, and Scott Noegel, “Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts I.” In The ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, ed. Mark W. Chavalas. (London: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 309.